How to Date a Coworker (and Not Get Fired)

By Chris Kolmar - Oct. 30, 2020
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Things don’t always work out as we planned them, and sometimes — despite our best efforts — we find love where we aren’t “supposed to”.

Many workplaces and relationship experts discourage workplace romances, but if it happens to you, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing and it doesn’t have to mean the end of your career.

This article offers some things you might take into consideration when navigating your office crush, as well as some helpful tips of the best ways to go about this — for yourself and for your career.

Pros and Cons of Dating a Coworker

There are a lot of reasons why someone might want to date or have a personal relationship with a coworker, and there are also some upsides to it

Pros:

  1. Work is a Great Place to Meet People and Find Friends as an Adult. As an adult, meeting new people and making new friends can be a serious difficulty. There just aren’t that many spaces where you’re consistently around the same people for long enough to develop a friendship. Thus, work can be a great space for socializing.

  2. You and Your Coworkers Already Have So Much in Common. Your coworkers get you and your situation in a way that others can’t. You can commiserate about the same people or tasks and know exactly who or what the other person is talking about. You can rejoice in each other’s successes as you work towards a common goal. And you can maybe even get a ride to work.

  3. You Just Can’t Help Who You Fall For. The main reason people fall for coworkers is because, well, they can’t help it. We like who we like, and when you’re drawn to someone you can’t easily sever that attraction. For many of us, our personal relationships are the most important things in our lives, and not something we would give up our freedom with to seem more professional.

There are also a great amount of reasons why you might not want to get romantically involved with a coworker. It is generally suggested to avoid these kind of relationships, for the following reasons.

Cons:

  1. It Can Affect Your Career. Involving your professional life with your personal life can inevitably affect your career. For more on this, check out the “Will it Affect My Career?” section below.

  2. Your Other Coworkers May Have Their Own Opinions. When two coworkers start dating, there can be a lot of office chatter about it. People may judge you or gossip. Some people may dislike you as a couple and avoid working with you or your partner, and some people may think an office romance is inappropriate no matter what.

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  3. Things Can Get Awkward Quickly. No matter what happens in the relationship, you’re going to have to continue seeing and interacting with them at least five days out of the week (unless one of you quits). There can be cheating, breakups, new relationships, all the risks of a regular relationship. Only with this one, you can’t just block them and move on.

Do’s and Don’ts of Dating at Work

Do’s

  1. Read Your Employee Handbook Before Anything. Many companies have clear policies on workplace dating and romances, and many of these policies outright forbid employees from pursuing romantic relationships with each other.

    These policies are in place to ensure that all employees are able to work in an environment that is comfortable, fair, and safe for all. If you don’t want to affect your career, defer to the employee handbook policies.

  2. Spend as Much Time As Possible Developing a Friendship. Just because you have a crush on someone doesn’t mean you have to jump to dating immediately. In the age of online dating, it can often feel like you need to move things as quickly as possible, but this is a bad strategy when it comes to someone you see everyday.

    When it comes to dating a coworker, the best strategy is to spend as much time being their friend as you can. Just enjoy their company, personality, and conversation as a friend and really get to know if pursuing them romantically is something you (and they) would want to try.

  3. Be Certain They’re Interested Before Asking, and Give Them an Easy Out for Saying “No.” After you’ve put time into developing the friendship, now’s the time to use your romantic detective skills. Internally investigate the relationship — do they seem interested? Do they flirt with you? Try to be as sure as you can be before making a move.

    When you do make your move, it’s crucial that you give this person an easy out and make them feel comfortable saying no. Caring about this person means knowing that they have a right to feel socially comfortable at work. Let them know that a “no” for any reason is completely reasonable and understandable.

  4. Decide Early On Who You Will Disclose Your Relationship to. There may very well be a workplace policy requiring you to disclose your relationship to certain people, such as HR professionals. If this is the case, be sure to disclose your relationship to these people early on so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to hide anything.

    Trying to hide a workplace relationship can reflect back poorly on you, it can erode trust with others you work with. Make sure you and your significant other/coworker are in sync about what you are comfortable sharing and who with.

  5. Be Professional At All Times. Now that you’re together and open about your workplace romance, your job is to keep it as professional as possible at work. Really try not to kiss, touch, or be overly-affectionate at your workplace. It could make your coworkers uncomfortable.

    When you have to work on teams with others, don’t make them feel like they are the third or fourth wheel on a date. Remember, at work your ultimate goal is to do your job well and collaborate well with your coworkers.

Don’t

  1. Pursue a Relationship Where One Party is the Supervisor or Boss of the Other. For many reasons, it’s best to avoid going after your boss or one of your subordinates. The bottom line is that these are professional relationships involving power dynamics where one person has the ability to directly affect the career of the other.

    There’s no way that you as a manager could ask out a subordinate without inappropriate implied coercion. There’s no way an employee could be in a relationship with his or her boss and not make the other employees feel as though they are getting unfair treatment. In the #MeToo era, just about every company has policies against this kind of relationship. Just avoid it.

  2. Rush Into a Romantic Relationship. While you spend time building a friendship with your coworker, really decide if a romantic relationship with this person seems likely and worth pursuing. Think through the possible scenarios of how this would play out, even worst case ones, and prepare yourself for them.

    If you’re thinking about hooking up or casual sex with a coworker, we really suggest you don’t do it. This leaves the door open for a lot of awkwardness. Remember you’re going to have to see and work with this person everyday. And most people aren’t as sneaky as they think they are.

  3. Put your Coworker in an Awkward, Uncomfortable, or Unsafe Situation. Again, this person’s right to safety and comfort at work is paramount. Do not create a hostile work environment. If they say “no”, do not under any circumstances pressure them or ask them again.

    Maybe your first move could be asking this person along with a group of other coworkers out for dinner. Maybe you could find an event that’s a common interest for you and this coworker and ask them to accompany you as a friend. Go for something that’s very low pressure

    However you do it, try incorporating a phrase such as “…but I completely understand and have no hard feelings if you’d like to keep our relationship purely professional and work-based.”

  4. Try to Keep Your Relationship a Secret. As stated previously, most people aren’t as sneaky as they think they are. If you think you and your coworker are keeping your relationship a secret from others, there is probably a lot of gossip about the two of you. Just keep that in mind.

    It’s best to open up about your relationship to the extent that you’re both comfortable. However, really be sure to set boundaries with the kind of behavior and language that’s acceptable in the workplace. Others shouldn’t feel free to pry into the personal details of your relationship, and they also shouldn’t be subjected to witnessing any PDA at work.

  5. Bring Your Relationship Drama into Work. When you walk into the office, leave your personal fights and drama at the door. Don’t put the people who have to work with you in an awkward position by involving them in your personal drama.

    If you break up, it’s important to keep the relationship civil, professional, and friendly. If you don’t think you can do this, it’s best to avoid the relationship altogether.

Will it Affect My Career?

If you’re worried about whether or not this relationship might reflect back on your career, it’s best to try and follow the guidelines of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” laid out above as closely and exactly as you can. These guidelines are meant to steer you away from any behavior that could be considered inappropriate or unprofessional in this context.

Your coworkers and superiors aren’t judging you for this decision, but on your handling of this decision. If you handle this workplace relationship with professionalism and composure, you will reinforce in the minds of others that this job is something you take seriously. If you handle the relationship poorly, yes, it will reflect poorly back on you.

For many, mixing your intimate personal relationships with your professional relationships can be too much stress and pressure. You may romanticize your relationship with this person at first or before it happens, but be honest with yourself about how you tend to navigate relationships.

If you know you’re someone who has troubled relationship patterns, a history of messy breakups, or other interpersonal relationship problems, you really might want to reconsider.

We Broke Up — Now What?

The most important thing to remember after you break up, is that you still have to remain professional at work no matter what. No glaring, no aggressive avoidance, no fighting, nothing that affects your or your coworkers’ peace of mind while at work.

It can be difficult, but if you decided to go ahead with the relationship, you did take on this risk. Be amicable with your ex-partner at work. This can be seen as simply another challenge to prove your professionalism. If those around you see you handle this situation with grace, they’ll think highly of you.

People are going to be curious. Be open about the breakup with the same people you chose to be open about the relationship with. Don’t go into too much detail, but keep them in the loop that your personal relationship has ended and you’ve gone back to simply being coworkers.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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